Milestones of God’s Grace

I started this blog almost three years ago to talk about God leading me to change the direction of my ministry and became a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  For those of you who have read my posts you probably have noticed that my posting has been much less frequent in recent months.  Well, life has just been both good and busy.  

I have been blessed these past nine months to serve in my new appointment at Grace UMC in Sioux City.  It has been a lot of fun getting to know the people of Grace, learning my way around Sioux City, and working in ministry with my new charge.  As the same time I have been continuing the process of working with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church to complete my transfer of orders to the UMC and seek recognition as an Elder in Full Connection.  

Part of the requirements of receiving such a recommendation involved me completing courses in UMC history, doctrine, and polity.  I completed all of those classes in February of this year.  Also in February I had what will probably be my last meeting with an examining committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry.  And I am pleased to say that the BoOM has recommended me for full membership in the Iowa Conference!

This means that my name will come before the Clergy Session of the Conference in June for a vote.  If I receive an affirmative vote from those eligible to vote in the Clergy Session I will be an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC.  

For me this is a milestone in a lot of ways.  It is a milestone in completing the process with the BoOM.  In that process I felt very encouraged and affirmed while the examining committee members continued to ask good questions, seek understanding of my ministry and calling, and make decisions about my progress in the process.

It is also a milestone for me because, as I’ve shared many times now, I have felt for a long time that God wanted me to be a United Methodist serving God in a UM local churches.   I’ve shared here in this blog how I believe God nudged me and guided me over the years into a Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith which led me to seek out the UMC as my church home.

Each Christian tradition has its strengths.  But what has continued to attract me and continues to pull me into the UMC has been John Wesley’s teaching and understanding of Grace.  God’s gracious love, described by Wesley as Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying continues to capture my heart and my imagination.  What Wesley called the scripture way of salvation with its emphasis on the work of God’s grace in each of our lives throughout our lives colors and enriches everything that is best about United Methodists.  

I am also empowered and enriched by the sacramental theology of the UMC.  I was reminded again this Sunday in Communion how much my heart is warmed by the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup.  There is something so right and so heavenly to bend down on one knee so that a small child can take a piece of bread and dip it in the cup with a joyful smile on her face as she is told that the body of Christ was given for her!  There is such Holy Spirit power in the voices of the congregation declaring as one that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”  Some Sundays I can only think to myself, “it just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Yes indeed, I am deeply honored that the clergy of the Iowa Conference will consider my credentials this June, and I am deeply blessed to be serving the Lord in the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC and here in Sioux City at Grace Church.  I am very glad to be a United Methodist!

May each of you be blessed as we continued to celebrate the Risen Christ in these Great Fifty Days of the Easter Season.  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!  Alleluia!”

Christ the Lord is Risen Today!

Happy Easter all!  I just wanted to take a moment to post one of my favorite Easter Hymns by Charles Wesley.

Christ the Lord is risen today!  Death in vain forbids him rise!  Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

        Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! 
	Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! 
	Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! 
	Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia! 

2.	Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! 
	Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! 
	Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! 
	Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia! 

3.	Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
	Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
	Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
	Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 

4.	Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
	Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
	Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
	Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

5.	Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia! 
	Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia! 
	Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia! 
	Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia! 

6.	King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia! 
	Everlasting life is this, Alleluia! 
	Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia! 
	Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

The Great Fifty Days

Like Christmastide, Easter isn’t just one day on the calendar.  Easter is a season.  The season of Eastertide is also known on the church calendar as “The Great Fifty Days.”  I love that name for this season because it captures for me what the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost should be about.

Every Sunday on the church calendar is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and should be celebrated as such.  The Great Fifty Days give us an opportunity to continue the celebration of Christ’s transforming resurrection and the days Christ spent on earth before he ascended to heaven.  During these fifty days Jesus met with his disciples as well as many faithful Christians.  He used these fifty days to show them the meaning and power of the resurrection.  During these fifty days the doubt, fear, and failure of the eleven remaining Disciples was transformed into the message of Christ as victor of sin and death.

At the end of these Great Fifty Days the Apostle Peter, the man who had denied Christ three times in fear, stood before a crowd of thousands on Pentecost and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He proclaimed Christ with a new found enthusiasm and the power of the Holy Spirit!   The Holy Spirit transformed this weather beaten fisherman into a powerful evangelist and church leader.

As we celebrate the Great Fifty Days let us continue to proclaim the Easter message that Jesus Christ is risen!  Let us continue to share the gospel of the love and grace of Jesus Christ without putting aside our usual timidity.  The days of the victor of Christ have not ended with Holy Week.  Or even in these fifty days.  The message of the joy of Christ’s over coming love is the message of the church for each and every day.

Hallelujah!  Jesus Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Into the Darkness

Today the Church has been observing Good Friday.  It was a dark, wet, and dreary day in Cedar Falls, a day that befits the solemnity of our observance.  

At noon Cedar Falls had its first of what we hope will be an annual Procesion of the Cross using the stations of the cross as a model. The Procession was very well attended despite the weather.  I am sure over 100 of us braved the weather to walk with the cross, read scripture, and pray.  I am glad that more than ten churches gathered together to be reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and our oneness as part of his body!

This evening our Associate Pastor for Youth and College, Steve Braudt and our youth group led a Tenebrae Service.  It was a powerful service of dramatic scripture readings, extinguishing the lights, and stripping the sanctuary of its faith symbols.  We all left in silence and awe and the acts of Christ on the cross and the death which he suffered.

This time from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday is called by the Church the Holy Triduum.  It is a space and time during Holy Week that is a unit of worship experiences and contemplation.  From the Upper Room, to the Cross, and into the darkness we wait.  We await the coming of our Savior.  We await answers to the evils of hell, sin, and death.  We await empty needing to be filled.  We await knowing that Christ has died for us and hoping against hope that the darkness in our lives will not continue without relief.

Tonight and tomorrow the Church of Jesus Christ mourns so that on Sunday, as the sun rises in the east, we can shout and sing.  We can run to the tomb with Peter and John.  We can say with Mary “I’ve seen Jesus” and we can walk the Road to Emmaus with a pair of Jesus’ followers.

Every year we retell and relive the old old story of Jesus and his love!  Every year we come again to face the darkness knowing that Jesus faced it for us and that he was there before us.  Unlike the Disciples we walk into the darkness knowing that Christ’s light is coming!  That Jesus will rise again!  That the tomb will be found empty!  That the angels will sing!  That the graves will be opened!  And finally that our hearts will be healed, redeemed, changed, transformed by the overcoming grace of Jesus Christ.

We walk into the darkness awaiting the coming of the one who has enough love for the whole world.

As the thief on the cross said to Jesus those many years ago.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”  Jesus remember me!

Holy Week Journey with Jesus

Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday.  On Sunday we begin a journey with Jesus through his last days before his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Palm Sunday has always been a time for the triumphal entry of Christ.  We have the children carry palm branches down the aisle and we sing loud hosannas.  But in recent years the Church has also reemphasized the passion, that is death of Christ on the cross.  It is too easy to jump from the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to the triumph of the resurrection and never talk about the scandal of the cross.  It is too easy to forget to talk about the suffering servant when we are singing songs of joy and triumph.  So this Sunday we will talk about Christ’s death and what that means for our faith.

On Maundy Thursday many churches around the world will celebrate the institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.  First UMC in Cedar Falls will have a reenactment of the last supper with the disciples and we will also share in the sacrament together.  In the days between Palm/Passion Sunday and Maundy Thursday Jesus has been meeting the challenge of the religious and political leaders of his day.  He has continued to talk about his radical gospel of love and the grace he offers.  When he comes to Thursday it is time to again try to get the twelve to understand that he intends to give his life for them.

On Good Friday we will celebrate Christ’s sacrifice.  Ten churches here in Cedar Falls, including First UMC, St. Timothy’s UMC, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, and seven other congregations will participate in a procession of the cross from Overman Park through downtown Cedar Falls to the foot of the steps at St. Patrick’s Church.  We will read portions of the stations of the cross and remember Christ’s love and sacrifice for us and for the whole world.

There are many theories about the atonement of Christ, that saving act which happens for us on the cross.  Different Christians describe Christ’s work on the cross with different metaphors from scripture.  But what we all agree on is that Jesus Christ died to give us knew life and to offer us the saving gospel.  It is hard to imagine such a sacrifice, it is hard to comprehend what Christ gave up for us, it is hard to imagine such a cruel death.  But what we can know and do know is that the scriptures tell us that we can love God because he first loved us.  When are given God’s grace so that we can respond to him.  We are given God’s grace when we respond to him.  And we experience God’s grace each and every day as he sanctifies us and leads us to grow in grace each day.

If we really look at the cross and really look seriously at the one who would call us to be servants to all for the sake of the gospel then when we reach Easter Sunday and the tomb is found empty we can with even greater joy should and sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” with joy, with amazement, with wonder that the one who is our savior became the greatest by being the servant all.

Lord Christ let us travel with you this week in your way and on your path that we might see the glory of your resurrection this week with new eyes, with new hearts, and with greater joy!